People going to church this Christmas believe God is a powerful force for good in the world and he, or she, sometimes works in mysterious ways. Christians, whose faith is founded on the redemptive event of Christ's crucifixion, can readily believe that good can grow from tragedy.
New Zealand this year has experienced a most appalling tragedy. The slaughter in March of New Zealand Muslims at prayer in two Christchurch mosques had a profound effect not just on this country but the world. It was not the effect authors of hatred desired. Far from tapping resentment of Muslim immigration, the massacre prompted this country to recognise and embrace its Muslim community as too few of us had done before.
New Zealanders who realised there was a mosque in their city went there with flowers to leave as a gesture of sympathy and grief for what had been done to those people in our country. At least one Auckland Christian congregation that Sunday after the tragedy crossed the road to the nearby mosque to offer their love.
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Love, in the widest sense, is the word for spirit of fellow feeling that New Zealanders felt that day and since. And not just New Zealanders. All around the Western world people realised terrorism was not a one-way threat, Muslims in Western countries were also at risk of hatred and violence in the name of race or religion.
It should not have taken a tragedy to show us that good people of all religious traditions, or none, can be equally hurt by hatred. But we are human and it often takes grief to bring us together.
The response to the tragedy here and around the world took its cue from our young Prime Minister. Her immediate, instinctive embrace of the victims' families, her well-chosen words and, most of all, the simple act of putting on a headscarf, moved hearts and minds everywhere.
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Peace on earth, goodwill to all. The Christmas message rings more powerfully this year. Seldom has there been a better example of the power of gestures of peace and goodwill to change people's thinking for the better, overcome tensions and prejudice and enable us all to recognise our common humanity.
For many citizens in a predominantly non-religious society, the appalling attack on the Christchurch mosque has been a revelation of the richness of faith of all kinds. In their pain and grief, devout Muslims did not express hatred or blame or a desire for vengeance. They responded in a way that Christianity also encourages, without animosity and the capacity even to forgive.
If Christians and Muslims have been enriched in their recognition of shared values in their respective religious traditions, those of us without a religious faith should acknowledge the good that faith can do. Too often we hear religion blamed for atrocities committed in its name or for intolerance preached by elements on its fringe.
Christmas celebrates the birth of the founder of the religion that has formed the core of Western culture, art, literature, values and social cohesion. We should honour it and be glad of it. To all our readers, Happy Christmas.